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Kings vs. Clippers: Meet L.A.'s New Best Team

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The Kings host the L.A. Clippers tonight. So Steve Perrin of Clips Nation and I decided to ask each other some questions about our teams. Here are my responses to his questions. Below you'll find our discussion on the Clippers.

TZ: How has the first half-season of a highly paid DeAndre Jordan worked out? As expected, underwhelming or better than expected?

Steve: I would have to say that DeAndre has done slightly better than expected -- depending on what one's expectations were of course. Jordan is being paid to rebound, block shots and play defense. He's playing career high minutes, and his rebounding and shot blocking are at career high levels not just per game but also per minute. His fouls per minute are at a career low, which means he can stay on the floor. He still bites on too many up fakes and chases weak side blocks that he has no hope of getting, which leaves him out of rebounding position, but his discipline in those areas continues to improve. He's had games this season when he's been a real force on the defensive end. He even made an offensive move that featured two dribbles last week, and has made two face up jumpers this season (his first points out of the paint in two years). You pay for size in the NBA, and there's little doubt that DJ is overpaid based strictly on productivity, but the good news is that he does seem to still be improving, and has a long way to go before he hits his ceiling.

TZ: What do the Clippers need to be able to compete with the Bulls, Thunder and Heat for the next couple of years? Is it just time to meld?

Steve: The Clippers, as presently constituted, can't play with the other teams you mentioned on a night in and night out basis. They could get hot, or Griffin and Paul could go off, or they could benefit from favorable match ups, but in general they're not there yet. The biggest problem is on defense, where the Clippers are currently 22nd in the league in defensive efficiency. (It should be noted that the Thunder likewise are an unimpressive group defensively, but the talent level is so high and they are so young that it may not matter.) Until the Clippers learn to play better defense, they won't reach the highest level. As for melding, beyond DeAndre Jordan (singed through 2015) and Caron Butler (2014) and Paul/Griffin (obviously part of the long term plan), it's difficult to know who will be a part of this team over the next couple years. The good news is that few teams have better building blocks in place than a 22 year old Griffin and a 26 year old Paul, while Jordan and Butler fulfill their roles on the nicely. It shouldn't be too difficult to convince players that they have a chance to win if they join the Clippers, which is new and different. But the future roster will need to be built with defense in mind.

In the immediate term, to maximize their potential this season, the Clippers desperately need an upgrade on the wing. Whether as a backup to Butler at the three, or even as a starting two, the Clippers would love to acquire a wing with good size and athleticism, capable of defending the bigger shooting guards of the league. Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of those sitting around (they missed out on J.R. Smith) and the Clippers don't have a lot to offer in trade. I expect some deal to happen before the trade deadline, but I'm not optimistic that they can find a major upgrade.

TZ: Do the national media and fans from other towns get Vinny Del Negro wrong?

Steve: Why? What do they say about him?

Vinny is quite underwhelming as an NBA coach. The Clippers offense is predictable and unimaginative, the defense is undisciplined, and the in game adjustments are non existent. Of course, having Chris Paul on your team can mask poor coaching, particularly on offense, where the Clippers are currently fourth in the league in offensive efficiency. Just because you know that a Paul/Griffin pick and roll is coming, doesn't mean you can stop it.

The one thing I point to with Vinny is that he seems to be a decent motivator, and that his players seem to like him and play hard for him. Consider this: on March 13, 2009, the Bulls were 29-37 and closed the season on a 12-4 run to make the playoffs. On March 19, 2010, the Bulls were 31-37, and closed on a 10-4 run to make the playoffs. On Dec. 15, 2010, the Clippers were 5-21, and went 27-29 the rest of the way. Teams don't seem to quit on Vinny, and you can't discount that in a coach. I'm not a big fan of Vinny Del Negro as a coach, but if players like him and play hard for him, that's a big part of the job description.

Of course, in a perfect world I'd prefer a coach who can both motivate, and, you know, coach.


Thanks to Steve for the insight. He was also sure to remind us that he has right about Paul Westphal. So right.

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